Here at 4Degrees we’re setting out to learn how the best VCs in the world go about building their strongest assets: their professional networks. For the third part in a series of interviews, we sat down with Devon Leichtman of Origin Ventures. Also check out our previous conversations with Keji Mustapha and Lindsay Knight.
Origin Ventures is a Series A venture firm based out of Chicago; Devon is building out a network of professionals and experts to help the firm’s investments succeed. While Devon’s role includes building community among Origin portfolio companies, planning on- and offline summits, managing adviser networks, and more, he has a particular focus on building out networks around providing top tier talent to the portfolio.
Like many of the other network-focus people we’ve chatted with, Devon didn’t come into his role with that focus — it developed over time as he settled in and figured out exactly what the portfolio companies could use assistance with. In this case, the firm’s Series A focus created an environment where the portfolio companies were scaling very rapidly, often doubling head count within a year or two of investment. And yet they weren’t so mature as to have their own in-house talent or recruiting specialists. So Devon found himself helping fill that void.
To find the best talent for the firm’s portfolio, Devon casts a wide net. He keeps his finger on the pulse of the ecosystem and identifies when another tech company may be struggling and thinking about layoffs. These unfortunate circumstances create an opportunity to snag great people who would otherwise typically not be looking. He also does a lot of work with recruiters from larger tech companies. These recruiters have a constant flow of applicants, many of whom just aren’t a good fit for the big company role but may be perfect for smaller startups. In general, Devon’s always just looking to talk to people who are plugged into the job search space in Chicago and elsewhere; the jobs marketplace moves so quickly that you have to constantly be top of mind for people who are helping direct the flow of traffic. His efforts have earned Devon recognition in the community and he’s now often the first call or email for dozens of people when they come across talented people looking for a new role.
While Devon’s efforts in identifying talent require a lot of manual effort and networking, helping the portfolio companies with open positions requires more scaled activities. With dozens of companies — each of whom could have numerous open jobs at any given point — it’s just not feasible to spend a lot of time on every single one. As such, Devon has created an automatic system built on VisualPing that notifies him when the careers page of any of the firm’s startups change, signaling a new position. He then loads these roles into a large spreadsheet, which is hooked up to a Wordpress website and broadcast to the public. This way, any job seekers can find a list of all of Origin’s portfolio’s open positions in one place.
The mostly-automated wide-net approach helps Devon and Origin serve the portfolio for the majority of standard hiring needs their companies have. The company executives also know to come to Devon for their more singular hiring needs — senior or uncommon hires. Because he’s automated the standard process, this allows Devon to spend special energy and focus on the tougher or more important talent requests.